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Illness and Health
Regarding matters of health, most non-Christians and perhaps most Christians give it little attention until there are problems. Even then, most consider good health the normal state and may think that any failures of health are simply reflective of the current state of evolution.
It can be helpful to first start with a consideration of some of the reasons for ill health.
1. The Curse. In Genesis we read of a judicial pronouncement of God that the natural world will become hostile to us. It would not be unreasonable to consider that in addition to difficulty in agriculture that pathogens and internal frailty of our DNA might also be included.
Some consider the curse to be a just punishment for sin. However, it may also be that such a 'curse' was for our benefit to limit our delusion of self-sufficiency.
Consider two wealthy fathers of young men who both rebel against their fathers. One father chooses to cut off all funds from his rebellious son. The other father allows his son to continue access to his funds. The first son has to find a job to earn the money he needs to eat. The second son continues to finance whatever indulgences and whims he fancies. The difficulties the first son encounters help him come to understand reality and truth. The delusions and dissipations of the second son carry him increasingly further from truth.
2. Purposeful. We have examples in the bible of people who become ill or, like the man born blind, are positioned for God's purposes. These purposes can be varied such as for our benefit, God's glory, or the benefit of others. Hezekiah gives us an example that longer life is not necessarily a blessing. Paul came to understand that God's strength is made complete in weakness.
3. Accidental. There are activities and situations that accrue damage to health without forewarning. Over a hundred years ago women who were employed to paint luminous Radium on the hands of clocks discovered tumors on their lips and tongues as a result of whetting the paint brush. These women would have had no way of knowing the damage that would result of their actions.
4. Consequential. The alcoholic, drug user, and fornicator all face health problems directly attributable to their choices. Even people who chose activities like boxing or football face health consequences.
5. Congenital. Some people are born with conditions that define how they will have to live life. This can vary from a life long nuisance to a condition that gives only a few hours of life after birth.
6. Corrective. We may come to a condition of poor health as a result of having ignored God's instruction and are being encouraged to seek his leading as to what needs to be corrected. (1 Cor 11:30)
7. Demonic. There is a category of illnesses that stem from the exploration of occult solutions to health problems. Often the attempt to solve one problem results in being beset by other physical and particularly psychological problems. Much of this was documented by Kurt Koch who passed away in 1987.
Some health conditions result from a combination of factors. For example it might be considered both accidental and consequential when people who lived far from a coastline developed thyroid problems because of a lack of iodine in their diet.
It is difficult to imagine that he whose 'eye is on the sparrow' would be disinterested in our difficulties. We know that all things work together for good for those who love God (Rom 8:28). However, this does not mean that all things happen for comfort, pleasure, or ease.
There are maladies that accumulate with age. This may have contributed to Paul's wistfulness as he considered his approaching death and going to be with Jesus. However, his remembrance of his ministry to the Philippians roused him from his contemplation of setting aside this 'mortal coil' (Phil 1:23)
If we consider what options we have for healing today we might see some of the following;
1. Medical care. If we consider that Luke was a physician, we might conclude that seeking routine medical care is not showing a lack of faith (Jer 8:22, Mk 2:17).
2. Prayer. Even if a particular malady is from the Lord, there is still precedence for praying that it be taken away (Php 4:6, 2 Cor 12:7-8).
3. Self-healing. If we get a cut, burn, or strain a muscle to the point of inflammation, we can find that in a few days the repair mechanisms of the body tend to restore function.
4. Nutrition and Diet. Sometimes experimentation with foods, vitamins, or supplements can shed light on physical complaints. For example, when industrial agriculture selected wheat varieties for better yields, many people developed gluten intolerance. The selection of gluten alternatives or products made from older wheat varieties may offer a management strategy.
Caution needs to be taken when exploring the realm of what is called alternative medicine. There can be benefit such as when people took willow bark to alleviate pain before the Bayer Chemical company extracted salicin, called it aspirin, and patented it. However, it was also common for people to take Laudanum in the 1800s for pain initially unaware of the addictive nature of opium derivatives.
It can be tempting to look into health options that are particularly dangerous. In addition to quackery that can pose the risk of increasing ones health problems, there are those who offer 'spiritual' help that can open the door to spiritual harm. A man from Nigeria was once asked about the practice of witch doctors. He said that they preferred to call it 'country medicine'.
The realm of claimed self-healing can include such practices as 'Word of Faith' and 'Christian Science'. Both of these can trace their origins to Phineas Quimby a mesmerist (hypnotist) and healer who came to view health as something one could achieve through ones own thinking.
There are those who offer to perform healing which can include those who make use of demonic resources. This field is complicated by what is called the 'placebo effect' where some people can show remarkable health improvement when nothing has actually been done. This opens the door for all sorts of claims that can be fraudulent, diabolical, self-deception, actual, or partial.
If we consider what the bible says about healing, we do know that God can answer prayer. However, we also read concerning a time when healing will be routine (Is 35:1-6).
With the arrival of Jesus and the offer of the kingdom to the nation of Israel, healing was given a proof of the immanent kingdom (Mat 11:2-5).
Jesus instructed his disciples what they could expect with the restoration of the kingdom and the role the nation of Israel would play in God's intended purpose for the nation (Mk 16:14-18)
We also read about healing demonstrated by the Apostles as they attempted to demonstrate to the nation of Israel that Jesus was the Messiah and that the offer of the kingdom for the nation was still open (Act 3:11, Act 5:16, Act 8:7, Act 14:9-10, Act 26:8-9).
The invitation to the nation of Israel to receive the kingdom was authenticated by miraculous signs (Act 14:3). However, this invitation was not to be extended continuously (Act 28:28).
Jesus had warned the nation of Israel what would happen if they did not repent (Lk 13:1-9). The death of the Galilaeans (presumably on the way to Jerusalem with their sacrifices) by Pilate and the death of those who were crushed under stones were fulfilled (the use of the word 'likewise' was a forewarning) with the destruction of the temple.
Some consider the book of Hebrews as a last ditch effort to appeal to the nation of Israel to receive the kingdom. The reference to 'healing' in Hebrews 12:12-13 may be more metaphorical than a description of physical healing as it follows on the reference to 'chastening' in verse 11.
In the description of the kingdom a reference is made to longer life (Is 65:20). This would be consistent with the description of every believer having the power to heal (Mk 16:17-18).
The description of healing given in James is within the context of an immanent kingdom. We see a description of an approach to healing that falls short of what would be expected when the kingdom was realized, but advanced of what we can expect today. It can be confusing because of the use of the word 'church' (ekklesia) in verse 14. There are certain words that evoke a particular image in our minds that we tend to bring into the word that distort our understanding. If we were to substitute the word 'assembly', we might get a better picture of the gathering of Jews (Ja 1:1) to whom this is addressed.
We might surmise that some of the Jews in this group were faithful Jews, but had not trusted in Jesus to receive the grace for immediate salvation and forgiveness of sins, because reference is made to one who may still have sins that require forgiveness.
An additional point of confusion in James is reference to 'anointing' (aleipho).
Two words in the New Testament, aleiphō and chriō, refer to the act of applying something to something else for a certain purpose. Aleiphō was used, for instance, in the papyri of the act of greasing the yoke-band of an ox, namely, the act of applying grease to the yoke-band so that it would not irritate the sleek hide of the ox. - Wuest
The verb chrio is the root of not only chrisma, but also the noun christos, which strictly speaking applies to one who has been anointed, the anointing serving to symbolize appointment for some task. Thus christos is used in the Septuagint to describe "the anointed (Heb = mashiach from mashach = to smear or anoint; Lxx = christos) priest" (Lev 4:5, 4:16, 6:22). In First Samuel christos is used in the Septuagint to describe the king of Israel as God's "anointed." (mashiach; Lxx - christos) (1Sa 2:10)
The word used in James, however, is the Greek word aleiphō. This word is primarily a medical term meaning 'to rub or massage with oil.' The rubbing of a person with oil (aleiphō) was a common medical practice for the sick or injured to promote and encourage the healing of wounds and diseases.
We can see a further distinction as the word 'anoint' (aleipho) is also used in Luke 7:46.
Much confusion can arise if we fail to see a distinction between three groups of believers. The first are those in the nation of Israel to whom the offer of the kingdom was made. These are those who are saved and receive eternal life at the first resurrection (Dan 12:2, Rev 20:6). These are those for whom the practice of James 5 would not be foreign (Mk 6:13).
A third group might be thought of as mostly gentile believers who receive the grace of God by believing in Jesus. These are those who even today are translated into the kingdom of God and become joint heirs with those of Israel (Co 1:13, Eph 2:16-19). However, these have not power from the Holy Spirit to demonstrate the immanent kingdom (Heb 6:5).
The second group consists of various assemblies (some Jewish, some mostly gentile, and some a mix of both Jew and gentile). What was distinctive of this group was the demonstration of supernatural powers that was to authenticate the offer of the kingdom and was observed between 33AD and 70AD. This was such a powerful demonstration that the Corinthian church had to be admonished for the exuberance with which they used these gifts (1Cor 14:12).
One of the unique characteristics of the second group was the demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12&14, Rom 12, Heb 6:4-5). Today many in the third group have convinced themselves that they are still able to call upon and use these 'powers of the world to come'. While they can cause some positive result through the occasional 'placebo effect', they do not seem able to duplicate the significant healings described in the bile, which include raising the dead.
While some in the Charismatic circle are greedy idolaters (Col 3:5) thinking that this is the path to wealth, many more can be drawn in by a sincere desire to be healed. The example we have of dealing with difficulty in general can be seen with Jesus when he was facing the cross (O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt).
Healing can be sought within the context of what is 'possible'. Medical treatment, nutrition, and prayer can be thought of as exploring the possible. A danger arises when a person seeks to employ his own control such as 'casting out the demon of illness'. The reason rebellion is equated with witchcraft (1Sm 15:23) (two seemingly unrelated activities), is that both have in common the attempt to control that which should be left to God.
If we consider the affliction of Job, we can see that his situation can be instructive for all who suffer. However, in addition to providing a lesson in long-suffering, we see that there was an element of correction for Job as well (Job 29). The purging of self-sufficiency and pride were of great benefit to Job as it can be for all of us.
While pain and illness can be an isolating and individual experience, it occurs within a social context such that our example to others of patient endurance and confidence in the Lord under trial can benefit them. It can also humble us to receive care from others and as we give thanks to God for their assistance and ministry, we bless them (2Cor 9:11).
It can be tricky to consider that what we experience of Christianity today may be different than during the time of Acts. One indicator is when Simon the magician (who is called a believer) desires to obtain the power to give the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands (Acts 8:13-18). The healings performed during the Acts period may have been the result of the power of the Holy Spirit distinct from the immersion by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ.
We can observe that the healing done by Jesus was immediate, complete, and lasting. We may surmise that the healings done by the Apostles were equally effective. Healing done today seems distant from God (as with medical care). Healing in answer to prayer might demonstrate some of the qualities as the healings done by Jesus and the apostles, however, they are not consistently demonstrated as they are not used to authenticate a kingdom offer or as representative of an established kingdom as will be observed when Israel finally receives the kingdom.
Healing today should probably be considered individual and at the will of God. As a result, seeking routine medical treatment and continuing to ask God for relief in prayer would not be unreasonable. If immediate relief is not observed, care should be taken to avoid anger, fear, frustration, and despair. Just as the hunger from fasting can be a reminder towards prayer, delayed or denied healing can also spur us to deeper dependence on the Lord.
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